A healthy state of mind

By Fiona Ralph

A healthy mind is just as important as an active body for wellbeing. Clinical psychologist Meagan Spence answers a few questions for us on staying mentally healthy.

Relaxation is an important aspect of maintaining optimum mental health. Photo / Sandra Simpson
Relaxation is an important aspect of maintaining optimum mental health. Photo / Sandra Simpson

What is the importance of mental health?

Like all aspects of health, it is easy to take positive wellbeing for granted when things are going well. But if the going gets tough and we have limited energy to cope, the world can seem a very harsh place.

In order to keep doing what we do every day, it is essential to take small chunks of time on a regular basis to refuel and take care of ourselves.

Waiting for that work deadline to be achieved before we take a break, or seeing our annual holiday as the only time we can fully relax, may be too little, too late if the tank is already running on empty.

Any top tips for maintaining optimum mental health?

Be active and engaged with the world around you. Physical activity when you are feeling low may seem like a big effort but is a proven way to feel better both at that moment and longer term.

Staying in touch with people you care about, and who care about you, is also a tried and true way to feel connected and valued. Strive for balance in everything. Extreme behaviours, intense emotions and inflexible beliefs can lead us to feel trapped.

If your initial reactions seem a little over the top to you or those around you, take some time to step back and gain some perspective. Exploring alternatives generates choice and helps us to feel more in control.

Be kind to yourself. Take time to reflect on any progression toward your goals, no matter how small, and see your efforts as worthy of celebration. Berating yourself for not being there sooner will only lead to disappointment and frustration, and can delay your sense of achievement further.

How can we practice mindfulness in daily life?

Being mindful doesn't come naturally to many of us. In our rush to achieve in our everyday lives we can often get caught up in the 'doing' rather than the 'experiencing'.

We spend much of our time thinking of what we need to do today, tomorrow, next week or problems we had this morning, yesterday, last year. This often robs us of the pleasure associated with even simple tasks.

Mindfulness aims to counter this tendency by helping us learn to focus our attention on the present moment in a non-judgmental way.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness but it is a skill that develops over time and like any skill, it takes practice.

Start small by taking the time to truly savour the taste of a food that you would normally wolf down whilst checking your phone, pay attention to your breathing for a few minutes before getting out of bed in the morning, or sit very still for a moment and practice shifting your attention from one sound to another and back again.

Reflect on these experiences and how they differ from your normal level of awareness.

- VIVA

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